Rocks & Minerals
Casual/Recreational gold panning is allowed on most National Forest System lands, as long as it is done by hand and does not involve undercutting stream banks. No permit is required for casual gold panning. The use of sluices and portable dredges is not considered casual. To operate sluices or portable dredges requires a prospecting permit from the Bureau of Land Management. Because the Eastern United States is not subject to the 1872 Mining Law a claim cannot be filed.
Forest Service policy does not prohibit the use of metal detectors. However, there are limitations to their use in special areas with National Forests.
A series of regulations and laws govern the uses and prohibitions related to metal detectors. While the use of a metal detector is not prohibited, the excavation and removal of artifacts from National Forests System lands is a prohibited act.
The Acts governing metal detector use are summarized below:
- Secretary of Agriculture Regulation 36 CFR 261.9 prohibits the excavation and/or removal of ""any prehistoric, historic, or archaeological resource, structure, site, artifact, or property."" This prohibition is mandated by two laws:
- the 1906 Antiquities Act and
- the 1979 Archeological Resources Protection Act.
Legal activities involving the use of a metal detector might include using the device on a beach or in a recreation area to collect contemporary coins, jewelry, and other metal objects less than 50 years old.
The following three activities are legitimate only when the individual using the metal detector is covered under a National Forest Special Use Permit. The issuance of a permit is governed by the 1906 Antiquities Act, the Archeological Resources Protection Act and Secretary of Agriculture Regulations.
1) using metal detectors for mineral prospects,
2) archeological survey, and
3) searching for treasure trove.
In the absence of a Special Use Permit, the 1906 Antiquities Act prohibits not only excavation and removal or objects, but also prohibits surface collecting artifacts more than 50 years old. The Archeological Resources Protection Act prohibits surface collecting and excavation of artifacts more than 100 years old with the potential for felony penalties.
Forest Archeologist, John Davis, is available at 1-800-821-6263 to answer any further questions.
In most areas "Rock hounding" does not require special permission or fee payment when done as recreation, and is consistent with local management objectives. To make sure special permission or fee payment is not necessary please contact the District office in the area you wish to "Rock hound" in.
- Forest visitors are welcome to pick up mineral specimens, rock samples, invertebrate fossil casts and molds, geodes, or other earth oddities, and to pan for gold using hand tools.
- Collecting can be done on National Forest System lands where minerals are owned by others, including areas under federal lease, as long as it does not materially interfere with the rights granted to the mineral permittee/lessee.